Sierra Leone officially banned child marriage on Tuesday with President Julius Maada Bio signing into law a bill to end the practice that remains widespread.

Advocates hope the new legislation will better protect girls in Sierra Leone, around a third of whom are married before they turn 18, increasing the maternal death rate due to the physical risks they face from pregnancy, according to the health ministry.

Under the law, any man who marries a girl under the age of 18 could face at least 15 years in prison and a fine of around $4,000.

Parents or those attending such marriage ceremonies could also face fines.

The U.S. Bureau of African Affairs welcomed the passage of the bill as a “significant milestone (that) not only protects girls but promotes robust human rights protections.”

West and Central Africa has the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world and is home to nearly 60 million child brides, according to the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

A 21-year-old Sierra Leonean former child bride, who requested anonymity, told Reuters that she was forced into marriage at the age of 14 and was considering going to court since the new law would allow her to file for an annulment.

The legislation should “break the cycle of early marriage and its devastating consequences,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Betty Kabari. “It also sets a pathway forward for other African nations, such as Tanzania and Zambia, to revoke laws that permit child marriage.”

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